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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Charles Stuart Calverley (1831–1884)


From “Verses”

OH, memory! that which I gave thee

To guard in thy garner yestreen—

Little deeming thou e’er couldst behave thee

Thus basely—hath gone from thee clean!

Gone, fled, as ere autumn is ended

The yellow leaves flee from the oak—

I have lost it for ever, my splendid,

Original joke.

What was it? I know I was brushing

My hair when the notion occurred;

I know that I felt myself blushing

As I thought, “How supremely absurd!

How they’ll hammer on floor and on table

As its drollery dawns on them! How

They will quote it!” I wish I were able

To quote it just now.

I had thought to lead up conversation

To the subject—it’s easily done—

Then let off, as an airy creation

Of the moment, that masterly pun—

Let it off with a flash like a rocket’s,

In the midst of a dazzled conclave,

While I sat, with my hands in my pockets,

The only one grave.

I had fancied young Titterton’s chuckles,

And old Bottleby’s hearty guffaws,

As he drove at my ribs with his knuckles

His mode of expressing applause;

While Jean Bottleby—queenly Miss Janet—

Drew her handkerchief hastily out,

In fits at my slyness. What can it

Have all been about?

I know ’twas the happiest, quaintest

Combination of pathos and fun;

But I’ve got no idea—the faintest—

Of what was the actual pun.

I think it was somehow connected

With something I’d recently read—

Or heard—or perhaps recollected

On going to bed.

What had I been reading? The Standard,

“Double Bigamy,” “Speech of the mayor,”

And later—eh? Yes, I meandered

Through some chapters of “Vanity Fair.”

How it fuses the grave with the festive!

Yet e’en there, there is nothing so fine,

So playfully, subtly suggestive,

As that joke of mine.

Did it hinge upon “parting asunder”?

No, I don’t part my hair with my brush.

Was the point of it “hair”? Now I wonder!

Stop a bit—I shall think of it—hush!

There’s hare, a wild animal. Stuff!

It was something a deal more recondite,

Of that I am certain enough—

And of nothing beyond it.

Hair—locks! There are probably many

Good things to be said about those.

Give me time—that’s the best guess of any.

“Lock” has several meanings, one knows.

Iron locks—iron-gray locks—a “deadlock”

That would set up an every-day wit.

Then of course there’s the obvious “wedlock,”

But that wasn’t it.

No! Mine was a joke for the ages,

Full of intricate meaning and pith,

A feast for your scholars and sages—

How it would have rejoiced Sydney Smith!

’Tis such thoughts that ennoble a mortal,

And, singling him out from the herd,

Fling wide immortality’s portal.

But what was the word?

Ah me! ’tis a bootless endeavour.

As the flight of a bird of the air

Is the flight of a joke—you will never

See the same one again, you may swear.

’Twas my first-born, and oh! how I prized it!

My darling, my treasure, my own!

This brain and none other devised it—

And now it has flown.